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Old 14-01-13, 01:48   #1
 
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Update France Bombs Mali-Reprisals=Hostages Taken, Some Killed by al-Qaeda

France Rafale Jets Target Gao in Eastern Mali



France has deployed warplanes in Mali

BBC World News, 13 January 2013

French warplanes have bombed the town of Gao in eastern Mali, extending their attacks deep into rebel-held territory.
France's military has been in action against Islamist militants in Mali since Friday, helping government forces recapture the central town of Konna.
A resident in Gao told AFP news agency all Islamist bases in the town had been destroyed and the militants had fled.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Islamist advance in Mali had been brought to a halt.
"Stopping the terrorists, that's done," he told RTL radio. Had France not intervened, there was a risk that the Islamists could have advanced as far as the capital, Bamako, he said.
Islamist groups and secular Tuareg rebels seized northern Mali in April 2012.




But the Islamists soon took control of the region's major towns and one group, Ansar Dine, began pushing further south last week, seizing the strategically important town of Konna.
The town has since been recaptured by Malian troops with French aerial support.

'Without Limit'

France's decision to intervene in its former colony took many by surprise. A UN-backed international force had not been expected in the west African state until the autumn.
France has called a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss its action on Monday.

The foreign minister made it clear that France was now targeting Islamist bases in the north and said Algeria, which shares a long border with Mali, had given permission for its air space to be used for bombing raids "without limit".

For months, Gao has been in the hands of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), which along with Ansar Dine has sought to enforce an extreme interpretation of Islamic law in northern Mali.

The town is around 500km (310 miles) north-east of a de facto line dividing the rebel-held north of Mali from the government-run south.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said four Rafale fighter jets, flying from their base in France, had attacked and destroyed rebel training camps and logistics depots in Gao, which acted as back-up bases for terrorist groups.
The air attacks were continuing as part of an offensive to drive back Islamist militants who still controlled large swathes of northern Mali, he said earlier.

"There were [air strikes] last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow," the minister said.

BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says it seems clear that French air power is now preparing the ground for a much bigger offensive against the Islamists.
A spokesman for Ansar Dine Islamist group was quoted as saying that the French attacks had focused on three areas: Konna, Douentza and Lere.
But later reports said French bombers had also targeted the northern town of Kidal, described as a headquarters for Ansar Dine and its leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
Fearing further French air raids, the group's fighters have moved out of the historic town of Timbuktu, Sahara Media report from neighbouring Mauritania.

'Guys with Guns'

An unnamed Elysee Palace official quoted by AFP said on Sunday that French armed forces had been surprised by the fighting quality and the equipment of the militants they were up against.

"At the start, we thought they would be just a load of guys with guns driving about in their pick-ups, but the reality is that they are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-armed," the official said.
"From Libya they have got hold of a lot of up-to-date, sophisticated equipment which is much more robust and effective than we could have imagined."

France has sent around 550 troops to the central town of Mopti and the capital, Bamako. They are set to be joined by troops from the neighbouring African states of Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Togo, some of which are expected to arrive in Mali within days.
In December, the UN Security Council backed sending a 3,300-strong force from the Ecowas West African regional bloc to recapture rebel-held areas of Mali but their deployment was not expected for some months.

The UK has provided two C17 transport planes to aid the French effort and Mr Fabius said practical support was also coming from Denmark and other European countries and the U.S.



Security has been stepped up across France

'Ghost Towns'


A Malian army officer said on Saturday he believed more than 100 militants had been killed.

Since the start of the French intervention on Friday, at least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have also died.

Human Rights Watch believes 10 civilians, including three children, died in Konna as Malian forces fought to recapture the town.
Medical aid agency MSF said many civilians had fled the Mopti area and some places had become "almost ghost towns". Hundreds of people had already fled over the border into Mauritania, it said.

Islamist groups are still holding several French hostages and have threatened reprisals against them and other French targets.
This prompted the French government to step up security across the country on Saturday.


Foreign Forces in Mali

Some 550 French troops in Bamako and Mopti
UK providing two C17 cargo planes for French effort
French Mirage jets based in Chad, Rafale planes in France
Nigeria to send 600 troops, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo expected to send 500 each and Benin 300
France says further logistics help from Denmark

French Hostages still Held in Africa

Pierre Legrand, 26, Daniel Larribe, 59, Thierry Dole, 29, and Marc Feret, 43, were kidnapped in northern Niger in 2010 by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, were kidnapped in northern Mali in November 2011 by AQIM.
Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, 61, was kidnapped in western Mali in November 2012 by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).
Francis Collomp, 63, was kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamist group Ansaru.

continued......


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Old 14-01-13, 02:08   #2
 
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Default re: France Bombs Mali-Reprisals=Hostages Taken, Some Killed by al-Qaeda

Mali: RAF C17 Cargo Planes to Help French Operation



The leaders - pictured here in July - agreed the situation in Mali was a threat to international security

An RAF C17 cargo plane has arrived at a Paris airbase to help French military efforts to contain rebels in Mali.
The first of two planes will load up with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to the West African state on Monday.
A second C17 is due to arrive on Sunday evening. No UK troops would be deployed in a combat role, Downing Street said.
France has attacked Islamist militants in Mali in recent days, to support the Malian government.

The first plane flew from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to the Evreux airbase where it will be loaded with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to Bamako. It will make just one trip.
The second C17 will shuttle between Mali and France for the next few days.

C17 Globemaster



The RAF has flown C17s since 2001 and now has eight, with No 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton providing the crews


'International Security'

The Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, indicated British personnel could play a role in training the Malian army through the European Union.

He said the UK was providing "only very limited strategic tactical support" in the form of the two C17 transport planes, in response to a French request.
The C17 has a much greater lifting capacity than the aircraft the French use, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris said.
"There are no plans to extend the UK's military involvement at the moment," Mr Simmonds told the BBC News Channel.
Justifying the government's decision to help, he told Sky News there was a "thoroughly unpleasant regime" in the north of the country with "raping and sexual violence taking place" and children being forced into the military.

The move was agreed in a phone call between Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Saturday night, Downing Street said.

"The prime minister spoke to President Hollande... to discuss the deteriorating situation... and how the UK can support French military assistance provided to the Malian government to contain rebel and extremist groups in the north of the country," a spokeswoman said.
"The prime minister has agreed that the UK will provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly.
"We will not be deploying any British personnel in a combat role. They also agreed that the peacekeeping mission from West African countries needs to be strongly supported by countries in the region and deployed as quickly as possible.
"Both leaders agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given terrorist activity there."

The government's National Security Council (NSC) will discuss the situation when it meets on Tuesday.
Hostage attempt Meanwhile, the French military has kept up its bombing of militant targets in Mali for a third day.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the militants had suffered "significant" casualties and hangars and "sensitive sites" were destroyed.
French troops were deployed in Mali on Friday after its army lost control of a strategically-important town to Islamists who were advancing south. The rebels took control of a huge swathe of northern Mali last April.
France's decision to intervene so soon took many by surprise, as a UN-backed international force had not been expected to deploy in the west African state until the autumn.

French President Francois Hollande said France and Europe would be threatened by the creation of a "terrorist state".


Troops from neighbouring African states - Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Togo - are expected to arrive in Mali within days to support the government.


Mali Crisis Explained

  • Mali is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis, one of the most serious since it gained independence from France in 1960
  • In April 2012, rebel groups, some with links to al-Qaeda, took control of the large areas of the north - one of the poorest in the world
  • The army had seized power the previous month, accusing the government of being soft on the rebels. But while the military was distracted, the rebels made rapid advances
  • Civil rule returned to the south with the speaker of parliament sworn in as interim president under a deal brokered by the West African regional bloc Ecowas, but political uncertainty remains
continued.....


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Old 14-01-13, 02:28   #3
 
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Default re: France Bombs Mali-Reprisals=Hostages Taken, Some Killed by al-Qaeda

Mali Crisis: Who's Who?



Since the coup, rebels have taken over the towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal

Mali is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis, one of the most serious since the landlocked West African country gained independence from France in 1960.
France has deployed troops after an appeal from the Malian government, in the face of a new rebel threat.

In April 2012, rebel groups, some with links to al-Qaeda, took control of the large areas of the north of the country - one of the poorest in the world. The army had seized power the previous month, accusing the elected government of being soft on the rebels. But while the military was distracted, the rebels made rapid advances.
Civil rule returned to the south with the speaker of parliament sworn in as interim president under a deal brokered by the West African regional bloc Ecowas, but political uncertainty remains.
Here is a guide to some of the main players in Mali:


The Interim President

Dioncounda Traore


  • Born in 1942 in the garrison town of Kati, just outside Bamako
  • Holds a doctorate in mathematics
  • Founding member in 1990 of the political party Alliance for Democracy in Mali
  • Between 1992-1997, held various ministerial portfolios including defence and foreign affairs
  • Elected as speaker of the National Assembly in 2007
  • Sworn in as interim president of Mali in April 2012

Dioncounda Traore, 70, had long harboured presidential ambitions - but he had hoped to come to power in elections originally scheduled for April 2012.
He was born in 1942 in the garrison town of Kati, just outside of the capital Bamako.
He pursued his higher education in the then Soviet Union, Algeria and France, where he was awarded a doctorate in mathematics.
He returned to Mali to teach at university - before getting involved in politics.
He was a founding member in 1990 of the political party Alliance for Democracy in Mali and between 1992-1997 he held various ministerial portfolios including defence and foreign affairs.
In 2007, he was elected as speaker of the National Assembly.
He was an ally of the deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure, who had become deeply unpopular.
As a consequence, many Malians are wary of Mr Traore - who is not seen as charismatic, Bamako-based journalist Martin Vogl says.
This boiled over in May, when supporters of the coup attacked Mr Traore in his office, forcing him to seek medical treatment in France.
When Islamist rebels launched a fresh offensive, entering the central town of Konna, the interim president appealed to France for military help.
He declared a state of emergency, arguing that the rebels wanted to expand "criminal activities" across the country.


The Coup Leader




The March 2012 coup seems to have been spontaneous, arising out of a mutiny that erupted at the Kati military camp located about 10km (six miles) from the presidential palace in Bamako.

It was led by a mid-ranking army officer Capt Amadou Sanogo, one of the few officers who did not flee the Kati camp when the rank-and-file soldiers began rioting and then headed for the seat of government.
Capt Sanogo, who is in his late 30s, is from Segou, Mali's second largest town some 240km (150 miles) north of Bamako, where his father worked as a nurse at Segou's medical centre.
Journalist Martin Vogl in Bamako describes the army officer as a forceful, confident and charismatic man, friendly but with a slightly abrupt manner.
In the army all his professional life, Capt Sanogo received some of his military training in the US - including intelligence training.
Capt Sanogo has hinted that he may play a future role in Mali's politics - despite formally handing over power.


The Rebels

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist Ansar Dine were the two major Tuareg groups involved in the takeover of the north of Mali - an area the size of France.

Who are the Tuareg?


  • Sometimes called the Blue People because the indigo used in some traditional robes and turbans dye their skins dark blue
  • Historically nomadic Berber people who live in the Sahara and Sahel regions of Libya, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, which they call Azawad
  • When camels were introduced into the Sahara 2,000 years ago, the Tuareg became the main operators of the trans-Saharan caravan trade in commodities such as salt and gold
  • Lost out when trade switched to the Atlantic Ocean
  • The Tuareg in Mali say they face discrimination because they are light-skinned and have been neglected by the government in far-off Bamako
  • They prefer to call themselves themselves the Kel Tamasheq or speakers of Tamasheq - their language which has its own alphabet

Other small groups have also taken part in the fighting, including the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).
Despite having very different aims, MNLA and Ansar Dine have joined forces to fight together from time to time, including in the capture of Timbuktu - but there are serious tensions between them, which have bubbled over into clashes between the two groups.
The MNLA grouping wants independence for the Tuareg's northern homeland, which it calls Azawad.
Two important figures in the MNLA are the general secretary Bila Ag Cherif and Mohamed Ag Najim, the head of the movement's military wing.
In the ranks of the MNLA are Malian Tuareg who, while in exile in Libya, fought alongside Col Gaddafi's forces as he tried to cling to power in Libya.
Once he was toppled, they returned to Mali - well-trained and with plenty of heavy weaponry.
But it is the Islamists of Ansar Dine and Mujao who now control all three of the region's main cities - Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.
Both Ansar Dine, led by a renowned former Tuareg rebel leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly, and Mujao have taken part in the rebel sweep south in early 2013.
An Ansar Dine spokesman said they had entered the central town of Konna for "jihad [holy war]".

The group has ties to al-Qaeda's north Africa branch, known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. There are unconfirmed reports of foreign jihadist fighters, possibly including Nigeria's Boko Haram, setting up training camps in rebel-held areas.


Ansar Dine says it has not been fighting for independence - it wants to remain part of Mali but wants to introduce Sharia across the whole country, which is largely Muslim.
Mali analyst Andy Morgan says the Islamists are much richer than the MNLA as they have been earning money in recent years by kidnapping Westerners for ransom and trafficking cocaine, hashish and cigarettes.
He estimates that the MNLA has 2-3,000 fighters - about the same as the Islamist groups combined.


The Ousted President



Amadou Toumani Toure - the army general widely credited with rescuing Mali from military dictatorship and establishing democracy in Mali - was deposed as president by a coup in March.


Known as ATT, his term of office was due in April anyway and on 8 April he formally resigned.
However, after several of his allies were subsequently arrested, he fled to neighbouring Senegal.
Mr Toure himself first came to power in a coup in 1991 - overthrowing military ruler Moussa Traore when security forces killed more than 100 pro-democracy demonstrators.
He handed power back to civilian rule the following year - gaining respect and the nickname "soldier of democracy".
He went on to win presidential elections in May 2002, and was re-elected in 2007.
But he became deeply unpopular as people became increasingly frustrated with his government for doing little to tackle corruption and the growing insecurity and eventual rebellion in the north.
Born in 1948, ATT has no official party - and had always sought the backing of as many political groupings as possible


Mali's Islamists
By Will Ross, BBC News, Lagos





Mali: Divided Nation


While West African leaders still hold hope that a solution to the Malian crisis can be reached through peace talks, a military operation is also being prepared in case force is required to oust the Islamist militants from the north of Mali.


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Old 20-01-13, 03:00   #4
 
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Default Re: France Bombs Mali-Reprisals=Hostages Taken, Some Killed by al-Qaeda

Algeria Intervenes in Hostage Crisis as Mali’s War Spreads Regional Chaos




KJETIL ALSVIK / HANDOUT
An undated handout photo provided by Norwegian oil company Statoil showing the gas facility in In Amenas, Algeria.

One day after Islamic militants invaded an Algerian gas field and seized dozens of Western workers, there are fears that several of the foreign hostages might be dead—potentially escalating the military intervention in neighboring Mali into a full-scale regional conflict. For months, a parade of Western diplomats and politicians, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President François Hollande, have visited Mali’s big, richer neighbor—Algeria—to try to persuade the government to deploy its crack military forces against al-Qaeda fighters in control of northern Mali. For months Algeria rebuffed their pleas, despite its long military and intelligence ties with the U.S., reluctant to be dragged into a Western-led fight and risk igniting a bloody conflict at home.

But the fight has come to Algeria. Reports suggest that at least 24 foreign hostages were killed when Algerian soldiers mounted a raid on the natural-gas compound in the south-east of the country to free them Thursday; the Algerian state news agency says some 600 hostages have been freed by the operation. As news filters in from the massive, remote facility, fears now grow that the week-old French military intervention in northern Mali is spinning into a broader war, drawing in one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers—precisely the situation Algeria was determined to avoid. “No matter which way Algeria deals with this, this will have a heavy consequence,” says Jean-Pierre Filiu, a specialist on the country at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, who accompanied President Hollande last month to the capital Algiers where the French leader met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Even then, the assumption was that despite jihadi networks in control across its southern border, Algeria would likely remain relatively secure. “Never, ever, did the jihadis touch the oil and gas facilities of Algeria,” Filiu says. “This is totally unprecedented.”

Unprecedented, but apparently simple. Before dawn on Wednesday, about 20 armed militants invaded the living quarters at the Ain Anemas natural-gas field, about 1,000 miles from Algiers, and seized 41 foreign hostages, among them seven Americans, as well as Britons, Japanese, French, Norwegian and Irish citizens. An unknown number of Algerian workers were also kidnapped. The militant group, calling itself the “Masked Brigade,” is led by an Algerian-born jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is believed to have masterminded several kidnappings, and to have ties to the region’s main terror franchise, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Filiu believes the group had probably driven from northern Mali, hundreds of miles across the Sahara—a sign of their stunning ability to operate in the remote desert. “They have a tremendous asset with the extreme mobility of their commandos,” he says. “They move at night with no headlights, at high speeds, totally undetected.”

Keeping those commandos away from its oil and gas wealth is critical for Algeria, since that comprises some 60% of its revenues and more than 95% of its exports. Ain Anemas, run jointly with BP and Norway’s Statoil, pumps about one-sixth of the natural gas produced by Algeria, which is Europe’s third-biggest gas supplier, and a key supplier to the U.S. Algeria also has about 12.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third biggest reserves in Africa after Libya and Nigeria, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The well-armed Algerian forces had surrounded the compound since Wednesday’s attack, firing sporadically, while the government attempts to defuse the crisis politically, conferring with Tuareg tribesmen who have links to al-Qaeda groups, and consulting U.S. and French officials through Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press, citing an unnamed Algerian security official. From inside the compound, hostages described a terrifying ordeal, saying captors fitted some of them with explosives. “The situation is deteriorating,” an Irish hostage told Al Jazeera by phone. “We are worried because of the continuation of the firing.”

The crisis is deeply worrying for Algeria, too. As darkness fell on Thursday night, there were confused reports about the state of the hostages, with one stating that only a handful of them were alive.

With 4,500 miles of borders with Niger, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mali, the country is huge, about the size of Western Europe, and straddles about half of the Sahara Desert, where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, has built up an impressive arsenal, using a war chest of tens of millions of euros amassed in part from hostage-ransom payments by European governments. Alarmed at the jihadist groups’ growing wealth, Algerian diplomats led an effort in 2010 to get the U.N. to ban governments from paying ransoms, which they claimed were thwarting counter-terrorist efforts. At that time, the Algerian president’s advisor, Kamel Rezag Bara, told me, “If you think about the fact that you can buy anyone in this region—anyone—for €5,000, you can see the problem.”

The problem for Algeria and its neighbors has worsened since then, partly thanks to the mountain of weaponry that poured out of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall in October, 2011. Since then, Algerian officials have sidestepped confrontation with jihadists, instead opting to push them deeper into the southern Sahara areas, away from the country’s critical energy infrastructure, and across its borders. At the same time, Algeria maintained contact with Ansar Dine, one of the more prominent Islamist groups running roughshod over northern Mali, and Algeria’s critics say it has too readily tried to avoid conflict with some of the more criminal militias in the region.

At stake for Algeria’s government is its ability to keep the country at peace, something on which Bouteflika has staked his presidency. Since independence from France, Algeria has been ruled by the same revolutionary—now authoritarian—political party. Bouteflika came to power at the end of a brutal civil war with Islamist forces, which killed about 150,000 Algerians between 1991 and 1999. And until now, the government’s tactic appeared to work: By avoiding all-out battle against jihadists, the militants avoided attacking Algeria’s energy facilities.

But all that changed when France began bombing northern Mali last Friday. Algeria granted French fighter jets overflight permission. It also sealed its southern border with northern Mali, threatening to starve Northern Mali’s jihadists of fuel—essential in their fight against French and African troops—since most of the area’s gas stations are located in southern Algeria. “These columns of vehicles require a lot of fuel,” says François Heisbourg, an expert on the region, who is chairman of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “It was perceived as a sign that Algeria would not let these guys do whatever they were going to do.”
END


UPDATES

BBC world News, 19 January 2013

Algeria Hostage Crisis: What we Know




Hundreds of workers, Algerians and expatriates, were working at the plant when it was attacked


A mass hostage-taking by Islamist militants at a Western-run gas installation in eastern Algeria has ended in bloodshed, state media report.


On Saturday, Algerian troops moved in to end the siege at the In Amenas gas facility, in the Sahara desert. Thirty-two Islamist militants, linked to al-Qaeda, and 23 hostages died during the crisis, the APS news agency said.

Algerian forces took action on 17 January, barely 24 hours after the gunmen overran the plant's living quarters, trapping dozens of foreign workers and hundreds of Algerian employees.
After another raid on 19 January, the Algerian interior ministry, citing provisional figures, said 685 Algerian workers and 107 had been freed by the military actions.

The interior ministry did not confirm the nationalities of the dead, but local officials told the state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS) news agency that two Britons and two Filipinos had been killed in Thursday's raid, in addition to a Briton and an Algerian who died when militants first attacked the plant. Britain has confirmed only one death.

Romania's prime minister also confirmed on Saturday that a Romanian national had died.

Since the crisis began on Wednesday morning, information about events on the ground has been largely controlled by the Algerian authorities and the hostage-takers themselves, who spoke to media outside the country.
Foreign states with citizens among the hostages appear to have had little say in the handling of the rescue operation which, according to testimony from a surviving hostage, resulted in carnage.

'Foreign Gunmen'

What seems clear is that the hostage-takers belonged to a new Islamist group formed by a veteran Algerian militant and kidnapper, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who recently broke with al-Qaeda.

Profile: Mokhtar Belmokhtar



Mokhtar Belmokhtar received military training in Afghanistan

Mokhtar Belmokhtar - who is accused of ordering the attack on a gas facility in eastern Algeria in which foreign workers have been killed and taken hostage - is a one-eyed war veteran with the nickname "Mr Marlboro".
He acquired the nickname because of his role in cigarette-smuggling across the Sahel region to finance his jihad, now waged under the banner of the Signed-in-Blood Battalion.
"Belmokhtar has been active in political, ideological and criminal circles in the Sahara for the past two decades," Jon Marks, an academic at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, told the BBC.
Born in Ghardaia in eastern Algeria in 1972, Mr Belmokhtar - according to interviews posted on Islamist websites - was attracted as a schoolboy to waging jihad.

Inspired to avenge the 1989 killing of Palestinian Islamist ideologue Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, he travelled to Afghanistan as a 19 year old to receive training from al-Qaeda.
"While there, Belmokhtar claims [on Islamist websites] to have made connections with jihadis from around the world,".
"Moreover, Belmokhtar claims to have been to battlefronts 'from Qardiz to Jalalabad to Kabul'."
When he returned to Algeria in 1993, the country was already in the throes of conflict after the French-backed Algerian military annulled elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win.
Belmokhtar joined the conflict, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and became a key figure in the militant Armed Islamist Group (GIA) and later the breakaway Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Algerian journalist Mohamed Arezki Himeur says Mr Belmokhtar lost his left eye in fighting with government troops in the 1990s and now wears a false eye.

"He has been condemned to death [by Algeria's courts] several times," he adds.

When the GSPC merged with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Belmokhtar headed an AQIM battalion in the desert between Algeria and Mali.
After AQIM stripped him of his title as "emir of the Sahel" as a result of in-fighting, Mr Belmokhtar launched a new group last year, known variously as the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, the Masked Men Brigade and the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade.
The attack on the gas facility was its first big operation, showing that he remains influential despite his marginalisation within AQIM.
"He knows the Sahara Desert very well," says Mr Himeur. ]

In recent years, Belmokhtar has gained notoriety as a hostage-taker across the vast Sahara, often demanding multi-million dollar ransoms from Western governments which - along with cigarette-smuggling - finances his jihad.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar
  • Fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in late 1980s
  • Former leading figure in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Left in late 2012 after falling out with leaders
  • Now heads a group known variously as the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, the Masked Men Brigade and the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade
  • Known as "The One-Eyed" as he often wears an eyepatch over a lost eye
  • French intelligence has dubbed him "The Uncatchable", while locals refer to him as "Mr Marlboro" for his illicit cigarette operation

Former UN Niger envoy Robert Fowler was captured by Belmokhtar loyalists outside Niger's capital, Niamey, in December 2008.
"We were frog-marched and thrown into the back of a truck... We began our descent into hell - a 1,000km [600-mile] journey northwards, into the Sahara Desert," he told the BBC.
"I think I know instinctively what they [the latest hostages captured in Algeria] are going through."
In its report, the Jamestown Foundation says Belmokhtar has been able to operate across borders because of his deep ties to the region.
"Key to Belmokhtar's Saharan activities has been his strong connections with local Tuareg communities... Belmokhtar is reported to have married four wives from local Arab and Tuareg communities," it said.
Mauritania's Sahara Media website reports that after the Malian Islamist group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), took control of the northern city of Gao last year, Belmokhtar "joined the administration of the city".
Last month, the Signed-in-Blood Battalion warned against any attempt to drive out the Islamists from northern Mali.

"We will respond forcefully [to all attackers]; we promise we will follow you to your homes and you will feel pain and we will attack your interests," the group said according to Sahara Media.

Last June, Algerian media reported that Belmokhtar - described in 2002 by French intelligence sources as "uncatchable" - had been killed in clashes between Islamists and Tuareg separatists in northern Mali.
But this turned out to be untrue, with Belmokhtar still a kingpin in the region.

"He is one of the best known warlords of the Sahara," Stephen Ellis, an academic at the African Studies Centre in Leiden in The Netherlands, told Reuters.


On Saturday, the Algerian interior ministry said the group was 32-strong, of which only three were Algerians.
The group, which calls itself the Signed-in-Blood Battalion or the Masked Men Brigade, was formed in 2012.

Despite its split with al-Qaeda, it continues to espouse violent jihad (holy war). Its spokesman at In Amenas - now believed to be dead - sought to link the hostage-taking to France's recent intervention in Mali against Islamist militants, some of whom are thought to be linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

On Saturday, the Algerian interior ministry said that the group had entered Algeria from "neighbouring countries" in all-terrain vehicles, according to APS. The ministry "foreign military uniforms" belonging to the kidnappers had also been found.
The spokesman, Abu al-Bara, told al-Jazeera TV by telephone on Thursday that the group's demands were being co-ordinated with "the command in Mali".




Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri has been named as the leader of the hostage-takers

The leader of the hostage-takers at the plant is Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, the Mauritanian ANI news agency says. He is reported to be a veteran fighter from Niger, who joined the hardline Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in 2005.
The gunmen appear to have been heavily armed and well equipped with explosives and rocket-propelled grenades.
Travelling in at least three vehicles, they attacked a bus leaving the plant for the local airport on Wednesday morning, before heading for the living quarters.
Azedine, a radio operator at the gas plant who witnessed their arrival, said they did not appear to be Algerian.

"They were talking in Arabic but I did not understand what they were saying," he told Reuters news agency.
"Some were clean, others were dirty, some with beards, others without, and among them a French national with sunglasses - he looked European."

Hostages

Azedine said one of his foreign colleagues, whom he admired greatly, was killed by the gunmen.
In addition to the Algerian workers, 132 foreigners were trapped at the plant by the gunmen's attack, according to APS.
It was not clear why that number was far higher than the 41 hostages that the militants earlier claimed to be holding.
Some hostages tried to hide, including French caterer Alexandre Berceaux, who has described being rescued by Algerian soldiers after nearly 40 hours in his bedroom.

Reports suggest those who were captured were subjected to a terrifying ordeal by the gunmen.
Speaking by phone to his wife after escaping, Irish survivor Stephen McFaul said explosives were strapped to hostages. on the second day of the siege as the gunmen made preparations for moving them.
He and others were put on 4x4s. There were five vehicles in all.
And that was when the Algerian security forces mounted the first assault, he said. Four of the vehicles were destroyed by bombs while his own jeep crashed, allowing him to escape.

'The army bombed the trucks'

Two survivors of the ongoing hostage crisis in Algeria, an Irishman and a Frenchman, have given harrowing details of their ordeal.
Stephen McFaul, an electrician from Northern Ireland with Irish citizenship, said he had escaped a bombardment by Algerian security forces in which other hostages died.
Alexandre Berceaux, who worked for a French catering company at the site near In Amenas, said he had hidden for nearly 40 hours in his bedroom before escaping.

Stephen McFaul, Irish electrician



Stephen McFaul is seen here with his sons in an undated photo

After his escape, Mr McFaul spoke by telephone to his wife Angela, who in turn gave details to Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore and Mr McFaul's brother, Brian.

It is now believed one or more helicopters opened fire.
Another survivor, civil engineer Ruben Andrada, told the Associated Press there was "shooting all around" as the 4x4s left the compound.

"I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate," he said.
"The gunman behind me was shooting at the gunship and it was very loud. Then we made a sudden left turn and our Land Cruiser fell on the right side where I was.
"I was pinned down by the guy next to me. I could hear the helicopter hovering above. I was just waiting for a bullet from the helicopter to hit me."

He managed to escape, he told AP, but sustained cuts and bruises, as well as a graze to his elbow from a bullet.
According to a local man who escaped from the plant, the gunmen told Algerian workers there that they would not hurt Muslims.

"The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels," Abdelkader, 53, told Reuters by telephone. "'We will kill them,' they said."

Details of Saturday's raid are still being pieced together. APS quoted a security source as saying that 11 hostage takers and seven hostages - who appeared to be the last ones being held - died in that raid.



  1. Bus attack: 0500 local time 16 January: Heavily armed gunmen attack two buses carrying gas field workers towards In Amenas airfield. A Briton and an Algerian die in the fighting.
  2. Hostages taken: The militants drive to the installation at Tigantourine and take Algerian and foreign workers hostage in the living area and the main gas facility at the complex.
  3. Army surround complex: Security forces and the Algerian army surround the hostage-takers. Western leaders, including the UK's David Cameron, urge Algeria to consult them before taking action.
  4. Army attacks: 1200 (1300 GMT) 17 January: Algerian forces attack as militants try to move some of their captives from the facility. Reports say some hostages escape, but others are killed.
  5. Final assault: The Algerians ended the raid on 19 January, killing the last 11 captors after they had killed seven hostages, state media reported.
continued.......

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Default Re: France Bombs Mali-Reprisals=Hostages Taken, Some Killed by al-Qaeda

The Bloody Conclusion

Algeria Crisis: Captors and Hostages Die in Assault




Most foreign workers at the plant have been accounted for

A four-day siege at a gas facility in the Sahara desert has ended, with militants and some hostages killed.

Seven hostages were killed by their captors during a final raid by Algerian troops - at least 23 hostages and 32 hostage-takers died in the four-day stand-off, Algerian officials say.

Five Britons are feared dead or missing - five Norwegians are unaccounted for.

French President Francois Hollande defended the Algerian response to the crisis as being "the most suitable".

"When you have people taken hostage in such large numbers by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation," he told journalists.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that "one British citizen has already been killed in this brutal attack and we now fear the worst for the lives of five others who are not yet accounted for".
"There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way. Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it," Mr Cameron said.

Clearing Mines

William Hague: "Our focus is on getting British nationals who have survived this ordeal back to the UK"

The In Amenas gas field is situated at Tigantourine, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the town of In Amenas and 1,300km (800 miles) south-east of Algiers.
The plant is jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company.
The militants had been involved in a stand-off since Thursday after trying to occupy the remote site.
Details are still sketchy, but unconfirmed reports say the hostage-takers summarily killed the remaining seven hostages before themselves being killed in a final army raid.
Citing a provisional total from the interior ministry, state news agency APS said 685 Algerian workers and 107 out of 132 foreigners working at the plant had been freed.
At least 23 hostages are known to have died, but the nationalities of some are still not known.

Foreign Citizens Involved
  • Ten Japanese unaccounted for
  • Five Norwegians missing
  • Five Britons and one UK resident feared dead or unaccounted for
  • Unknown number of Americans
  • Possibly citizens of Romania, Thailand, the Philippines, Colombia, South Korea and Austria

With 14 Japanese nationals thought to be missing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had received "severe information" about the fate of the hostages.
The chief executive of BP group said 14 of its 18 staff were safe - the company had "grave fears" for the other four.

Helge Lund, chief executive of Norway's Statoil, said the company was still missing five workers and feared "bad news", Reuters news agency reported.

Algerian national oil and gas company Sonatrach said the army was now clearing mines planted by the militants.
The Algerian interior ministry said troops had recovered:
  • six machine guns
  • 21 rifles
  • two shotguns
  • two 60mm mortars with shells
  • six 60mm missiles with launchers
  • two rocket-propelled grenades with eight rockets
  • 10 grenades in explosive belts
Weapons allegedly seized from the kidnappers were shown on Algerian TV.

The crisis began on Wednesday when militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers. A Briton and an Algerian reportedly died in the incident.
The militants then took Algerians and expatriates hostage at the complex. The leader of the hostage-takers is said to be a veteran fighter from Niger, named as Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which has been in contact with the militants.
The Algerian armed forces attacked on Thursday as militants tried to move some of their captives from the facility.
APS reported before Saturday's raid that a group of militants remained at the site, holed up in a workshop with the remaining hostages and armed with rocket-launchers and machine guns.
A statement from the kidnappers said the assault on the gas plant was launched in retaliation for French intervention against Islamist groups in neighbouring Mali.
END
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